I’m Breaking Up With the United Methodist Church

Hey, UMC. We need to talk.

Next month, it will be twenty-three years since I was baptized in a United Methodist church in Kansas City; eleven years since I was confirmed at Alliance United Methodist in Fort Worth. A huge chunk of my brain is devoted to the hymns and liturgies of my childhood, which I learned in Sunday school rooms in Methodist churches across Missouri and Texas.

In college I went to the Texas Wesley, a United Methodist campus ministry at UT. The Rio Texas Conference of the UMC almost sent me to seminary to be a pastor. My parents still attend the church I grew up in: my mom is a Stephen minister; my dad teaches Sunday school.

But I’m breaking up with you, you beautiful mess of a denomination.

//

It’s not you, it’s me.

I’ve never broken up with someone before, but I’ve heard this is what you say. It is half true.

It started out as about me, really. About halfway through my college career, I lost the language to talk to God. Then I lost the language to talk about God. I started going to Servant Church, a Methodist church plant with beautiful liturgy, new hymns that sound old and old hymns that sound new. Growing up in a town where every church looks and talks and feels a little bit Baptist, Servant Church shocked me a little, taught me a new way to do church, but it didn’t fill the void.

Then, the World Race, where I had to cobble together words for God that would translate into eleven different languages. In Eastern Europe, I found the Book of Common Prayer and I read the whole thing cover to cover. (Apparently, that’s not how you’re supposed to do it. Ignorance is bliss, my dudes.) I longed for even the simplest of liturgies at churches across southern Africa, and I applied to the Episcopal Service Corps because their application questions made me weep at three in the morning on a balcony in Colombia.

We just grew apart. Maybe it was inevitable; maybe I could have worked harder to hold onto our relationship. I believed in us, after all.

But I needed something more: a way of worshipping that better reflected how I relate to God; a language for prayer when I had none; a way to move between ancient tradition and this modern world that did not tear me in two. I found it, unexpectedly, in the Episcopal church.

//

This is where it becomes about you.

When I came out six months ago, I knew the risks. The Rio Texas Conference would almost certainly never ordain me: while I was in college, two seminarians’ ordination processes were blocked because of their gender or sexuality. One of them was my friend, who has since moved to a different state to find a job in a church that would affirm his calling.

I could no longer get married in the church I grew up in. I was now an “issue” in the church, “divisive,” “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Former youth group members tried to “lovingly correct” my theology on Facebook, and people told me they loved me even if they disagreed with my “politics and theology.” My very being was now a stance to disagree with.

I am not leaving the United Methodist Church because of my sexuality, or because of your stance on it. There are over 140 LGBTQ+ clergy in the UMC, including an openly lesbian, married bishop named Karen Oliveto, whose consecration is currently being debated by the Judicial Council. LGBT people exist and thrive in United Methodist congregations all around the world, whether or not we are welcomed.

But I am leaving you, and the threatened schism over sexuality and gender was the final straw.

Maybe leaving makes me a coward. There is a constant debate in my head: how can I leave the UMC, when I could stay and fight the good fight for my peers and for future generations? How can I stay in the UMC, when my sexuality is not the only thing that defines me?

Here is what else defines me: the call I felt when I was seventeen and still do not fully understand. The group text with the friends I met in Sunday school when I was nine. Eleven months in eleven countries and eight months in a state so different from Texas it might as well be a different country. How you taught me to love with open hands and moving feet and a broken heart, strangely warmed by the Spirit.

Do you see how badly I want to stay? Do you see why I can’t?

How difficult it is, to lose a love like you. There are thousands of whispered prayers and lightbulb moments and layers upon layers of grace between us. Communion will always taste sweet like Hawaiian bread and grape juice.

//

Here is fair warning: I’m going to be your psycho ex. I am going to stalk your Instagram and read every article about you. You were the church that taught me how to love, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully divest from you.

But in three weeks, two days after my twenty-third birthday, I’ll be confirmed in the Episcopal Church.

Last Sunday, I preached at Saint Margaret’s, the Episcopal church where I’ve worked for the past eight months. For the first time in my life, I stood confidently behind a lectern. I did not shake. I talked about resurrection.

Later, the dean at St. Mark’s asked me how it felt. The truth, which I did not say to him, is that it felt like home. It cut me raw in that moment: for all the excuses I could use to leave the UMC, the truth is that we truly no longer fit together.

I love you, United Methodism. But I need to go home now.

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14 thoughts on “I’m Breaking Up With the United Methodist Church

  1. Love you so much Carrie. Been questioning this break up of my own recently and I hope if I stay I can fight in your place. Absolute best wishes on your upcoming confirmation!

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  2. Carrie, such beautiful and yet heart wrenching testimony. Episcopalians have a great deal incommon with Methodists. I was an Episcopalian for several years. I too love the Book of Prayer. I keep it by my bedside! The prayers are so lovely! Embrace the teaching and know you are still loved by you AUMC family! We love the same Jesus! Love to you…RuthAnn Guess

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I came to the Episcopal Church from the evangelical world. This piece, especially your complicated feelings towards the UMC, really resonates with me. Thank you for your courage in writing it so boldly.

    St. Margaret’s is the church where my wife and I first found a home in the Episcopal Church and where we were confirmed, a decade or more ago now, and it is such a comfort to know it is offering you a welcoming faith community now. Again, thank you for sharing this, for speaking with such love (and sorrow) towards the denomination you leave behind, and for the work you’re doing in a parish my wife and I still hold in our hearts (flying all the way back there from Chicago, once, so that our little girl would be baptized there). May the journey home be a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carrie, you will be missed, but your reasons for leaving the Methodists are certainly valid. Oliver Twist said, “please sir, may I have some more”. So did you, and you did something about it. Good luck in the future.

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  5. Carrie, as a 77 year old, straight, retired deacon in the UMC, lifetime Methodist, I, too, look to the Episcopal Church, and someday I may join you there. I think about breaking up with the UMC every day. Thank you for the love manifest in your writing.

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  6. another awesome reflection from you, carrie. i love how you speak from your heart and soul. I am a cradle Episcopalian and am having a little tiny love affair with the Methodist church, through Walk to Emmaus. They are such an accepting community. Most of them are upset about the LGBTQ issue as well. I find it funny that because i’ve grown up with the Book of Common Prayer (giving me the words to pray) that I’ve rebounded as you have -but in the other direction. In praying outright with my own language with God, sort of annoyed that someone else’s words are doing my praying for me. That you have to look up a prayer. huh? But i get it. And I’m now moving back toward the BCP and Hymnal .. it is very beautiful and think that the two can live together nicely. There is room for both! I am glad you are with us. and very glad that you are being confirmed! We get to keep you!

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  7. While I disagree with your position, I admire the courage of your convictions.

    There are many older people in this struggle that could take a lesson from you. Rather than pouting, stamping their feet, and insisting on their own way (against the consistently held majority opinion), the far more mature act is to simply leave and go somewhere where your beliefs are shared. Best of luck.

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    1. Hi Tom, thank you for reading my blog.

      While I am leaving the Methodist church, I want to be clear that I am taking the easier way. The much harder, and perhaps much holier, way is to stay and insist on the equal treatment of all of God’s children. I would argue that your idea of the “consistently held majority opinion” is somewhat skewed, and that LGBTQ+ community and their allies are not simply pouting and stamping their feet but rather reminding the Methodist church of the Imago Dei in everyone.

      Leaving is not the more mature act- for me, as I hope I made clear in the blog, my decision to leave was based as much on a shifting faith as it was on the church’s stance on homosexuality. And I am incredibly thankful for older leaders who are called to stay exactly where they are, who find the UMC a good reflection of their faith, and who will continue to work for change with grace and, yes, maturity.

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  8. Read your blog and support you very much in your new endeavors.
    We love you very much.
    Remember, you are our favorite GRAND-DAUGHTER.
    Grandma & Grandpa

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m sorry it’s come to this. You deserve better from us. I promise to keep working for change as long as possible. Grace & Peace be with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Carrie,

    As I was growing up, going to college,
    I went through my own denominational search. What caused me to Come back to the UMC was that, in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s we were a big tent with a LOT of room for everyone of different backgrounds and points of view. I think we were better at inclusivity and agreeing to disagree in those days.

    Unfortunately, you are correct that we are no longer that church. It breaks MY heart to say that out loud. I am hurt and disappointed that, more and more of the children and youth of the United Methodist Church are no longer finding the UMC a place of comfort, service, and, as you put it so beautifully, Home.

    Unfortunately, Bowing to the conservative cultures within the Methodist Church on other continents around the world, in the name of “unity” we are becoming more exclusive than inclusive. We have bent to the past rather than new revelation through scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.

    I am so pleased that you have found a church you can call HOME. May they
    welcome you and your many gifts with open arms. I ache, not for the loss
    Of your faith, because we still SHARE that in common. But, of the loss of your gifts and graces in the UMC. I feel
    Both losses equally.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well said David. I also ache for that inclusive UMC that encouraged each person to seek their own relationship with a God, rather than presume that a few can determine who God wants in the church. It breaks my heart.

      Linda Dieffenbach

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  11. Dearest Carrie,

    Reading your love letter brings me to tears each time. My heart breaks over the painful process that you have had to persue to find your home. I am very happy that you have finally found it though.

    It is clear to me that Jesus never turned away any person seeking to know Him. It is very sad, as others have said so eloquently, to think that the church that I was raised in is no longer following that lead.

    I will continue to pray for you and for the UMC.

    Love and Blessings to you,

    Linda Dieffenbach

    Like

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